The European peace movement, facing a strong counterattack from the United States and other NATO governments, is charting a new strategy to keep up its momentum.
On Friday, just one day after Vice-President George Bush is due to leave London at the end of his European tour, 150 peace activists from 19 countries will get together to work out tactics for a new phase in the battle to influence European public opinion. The meeting, which will include delegates from the US and Canada, will take place on a university campus in Bradford, Yorkshire.
So far the peace movement has been remarkably successful in publicizing its case. Antimissile groups such as the women's ''camp for peace'' at Greenham Common air base, Berkshire, and the Dutch Reformed Church group, IKV, have had considerable impact on Europeans worried about the dangers of nuclear war.
But NATO governments, perturbed by the peace movement's successes and by the Kremlin's efforts to woo Europeans with a stream of arms control ideas, have begun to hit back. Washington has sent Secretary of State George Shultz, and now Mr. Bush, to Europe to bolster NATO and to emphasize that the US wants peace and arms control.
''We are fully expecting,'' a spokeswoman for European Nuclear Disarmament (END) told this newspaper, ''that the US will try to make some arrangement with the Soviets at the Geneva talks to reduce the number of medium-range nuclear missiles. It would try to pull the rug from beneath the feet of European peace activists.''
The spokeswoman, Jane Diblin, said the movement now had to prepare for such a move.
''Around Europe, we're not prepared to be fobbed off by reduced numbers,'' she said. This is also the position of Britain's largest peace group, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
''We are glad Moscow and Washington are talking,'' she went on. ''They are doing so as a result of pressure from peace groups. We recognize that our ultimate goal - complete removal of nuclear weapons from East and West Europe - must be achieved in stages.''
But the peace movement is under new pressure now. Its members see that they need to do a better job of convincing people that reducing numbers of missiles alone is not enough.
European movements from the Netherlands to Italy plan a year-long series of protests and demonstrations against the cruise and Pershing II missiles. Highlights will include a mass conference in Berlin in May and a number of coordinated protests in the fall.
Both END and CND see the Bush visit to Europe as a tribute to their own hard work in opposing the 572 cruise and Pershing II missiles scheduled to be deployed in Europe in the next few years.
''The US has woken up to us,'' is how one activist here puts it.
CND, which claims 250,000 supporters in Britain, tried to tackle Mr. Bush head-on. Its general secretary, Msgr. Bruce Kent, wrote to him asking for a meeting to put forth its unilateral disarmament views. Mr. Bush replied that he was in London for less than two days, and would not have time to meet. However, he invited Mr. Kent to London's Guildhall on the afternoon of Feb. 9 to hear him speak.
Mr. Kent said he planned to attend, and then to hold a press conference on the street outside to give the peace movement's rebuttal to the NATO case for cruise and Pershing II.
Women peace campaigners took more direct action when Britain's new Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine entered a hall to give a speech Feb. 7 in Newbury, not far from the women's camp at Greenham Common. A crowd of women estimated at about 100 jostled him and he fell.
Earlier, dozens of women managed to get through the fence around the US air base at Greenham Common, where 96 cruise missiles are to begin deployment before the end of the year. Police arrested some and took the names of many others. Nine peace campers were also arrested Feb. 7 at another US air base at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire.
''The pace is hectic right now,'' said Dave Wainwright, a national organizer for CND. ''The peace movement is definitely having its effect.'' He referred to Mr. Heseltine's appointment as defense secretary and government articulator of the anti-CND line, and to the British government's apparent decision not to spend (STR)1 million on a publicity campaign against peace movement views.
The activists' meeting in Yorkshire Feb. 11-13 is to bring together groups from Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, West Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Spain , the Republic of Ireland, Canada, and the US.
Ten American delegates are to attend, including Joanne Landy from the Campaign for Peace and Disarmament in New York, and representatives from the Nuclear Freeze Campaign and the War Resisters group. Delegates see the result of the Mar. 6 elections in West Germany as crucial. A victory for the opposition Social Democrats would, they believe, bolster their own case.